Posts from March 11, 2005

Matter meets antimatter

Matter meets antimatter

: Blogger uses the words “gravitas” and “Wonkette” in the same sentence.

Media on media

Media on media

: The Journal Editorial Report has a story tonight on trust of big media nd blogs’ impact and all that. I may be on. In New York, it’s on WNET at 9p ET. Elsewhere here.

Citizens’ journalism loses the Apple case… big time

Citizens’ journalism loses the Apple case… big time

: So the judge decided that Apple can go ahead and subpoena the the sites that reported on its business to find out their sources. Which is to say that bloggers are not protected by California’s shield law. Which is to say that this judge just said that bloggers aren’t journalists. Which is to say that we just started a program of certifying official journalists in this country. Which is to say that we lose. Big time.

Said the judge:

“Unlike the whistleblower who discloses a health, safety or welfare hazard affecting all, or the government employee who reveals mismanagement or worse by our public officials, (the enthusiast sites) are doing nothing more than feeding the public’s insatiable desire for information,” Kleinberg wrote.

Hello: “the public’s insatiable desire for information” is also known as news. Or it was.

ZDNet adds:

In the ruling, the judge largely brushed off the question of whether the publishers were journalists and therefore protected from facing contempt charges for refusing to divulge sources under California’s shield law. “Defining what is a ‘journalist’ has become more complicated as the variety of media has expanded,” he said. “But even if the movants are journalists, this is not the equivalent of a free pass.”

That aspect of the decision will likely be viewed with dismay by traditional media outlets, which themselves often publish confidential information about corporate plans.

But it is also viewed with dismay by all the rest of us.

What if you tomorrow find information about a scandal in government or in industry or in a church… whatever. Now a judge will decide whether that’s really news or just the insatiable desire.

And once that happens, then a government official can refuse to give you access to a press conference — at, say the White House — because you’re not really news.

One major problem with this entire discussion is that it judges who is a journalist rather than what is a journalistic act. Informing the public is journalism. Period.

And the problem with all this is that — just like the FCC on indecency — this puts government in the position of judging speech. And when one form of speech is seen as inferior to another form when it comes to such things as legal protections — whether the First Amendment or local shield laws — then that becomes a form of censorship.

The judge continued:

“The public has had, and continues to have, a profound interest in gossip about Apple,” the judge ruled. “Therefore, it is not surprising that hundreds of thousands of ‘hits’ on a Web site about Apple have and will happen. But an interested public is not the same as the public interest.”

And now this judge is defining the difference. That is dangerous.

Laura Sydell — a reporter whose work I greatly respect on NPR — emails this:

I was looking at your site and I wanted to point out to you that the California case didn’t actually deal with the blogger issue. Arguably it’s worse. The judge found that no journalist –blogger or mainstream — has the right to protect a source who was breaking the law by revealing a trade secret. He never actually decided on the issue of bloggers versus mainstream journalists. Just thought you’d want to know for the record.

Yes, that’s most troubling is that the judge decided what news — no matter who reports it — is worthy of protection. It’s that line about “the public’s insatiable desire for information” that’s so troubling. He doesn’t like the insatiable part; he thinks there is some limit on the definition of news. That is precisely what is so troubling. And, so, yes: When a reporter for a mainstream outlet reports on something that the judge thinks is too much from the insatiable desire — too long-tail — then that doesn’t deserve protection, but other “news” does? Yes, it is troubling for all journalism.

I’m clearly not saying it well but my concern is that the court should not be deciding what is news and what isn’t, what is journalism and what isn’t, who is a journalist and who isn’t. That is what troubles me here.

: Eugene Volokh also writes about this.

Keep in mind that citizens’ media is not just weblogs. It is also forums. It will be podcasts and vlogs. It will be impossible to define media. Media is speech and speech is media.

: UPDATE: Buslaw blog says I got this completely wrong. The judge specifically did not try to distinguish between journalists and bloggers, Buslaw says.

Yes, counsel, but didn’t he try to distinguish between the kinds of information and he called the kind bloggers get reporting that only “satisfies the public’s insatiable desire for information” and he found that unworthy of protection.

I’ve been arguing that we should not worry about whether a person is a journalist but whether an act is journalism. So I got my knickers in knows above on just this point. So to try again: He did not say who is a journalist. But didn’t he decide what is journalism? Didn’t he decide whether this act is worthy of the label journalism and thus worthy of protection? And if you don’t practice journalism, you’re not a journalist, eh?

He also says, again, that “the interested public is not the same as the public interest.” That, too, is about him judging the act of journalism; he decides what is worthy to be called journalism. That is what troubles me.

: SATURDAY UPDATE: Dan Gillmor (who sees the ducking of the blogger-journalist divide as a small favor) adds this:

Reporting on business, if this bad ruling is upheld on appeal, will be a great deal harder in the future. Companies will simply slap “trade secret” protection on everything they do, and any reporter who gets a scoop on anything the company doesn’t want the public to know about will be under a legal threat.

The danger of insanity

The danger of insanity

: As I came through Jersey City’s Journal Square — a kind of reality-show version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — early this morning, I heard some guy shouting and singing and dancing wildly. Of course, I charted a course around him. I didn’t want to get anywhere near him. He could be dangerous. He’s a nut. You know it. I know it. But society won’t admit it. He’s out on the street. We think that’s his right, to be insane — though, of course, he’s too insane to be able to judge that he wants to be sane. We have no idea what to do with the insane. And that hurts them — and the people around them. It’s even dangerous.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago when we thought that a homeless person had started a fire in the subways in New York that was going to take years to fix (and none of that turned out to be true: they couldn’t show that’s how the fire started and the subways were back in days).

Now there’s a better case to discuss this issue: The murders of Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow’s husband and mother by Bart Ross who, it turns out, was quite insane.

The man, Bart A. Ross, 57, had sued the federal government and a raft of others for $1 billion, saying they persecuted him with “Nazi-style” and terrorist tactics as he pursued a medical malpractice claim stemming from the severe disfigurement of his cancerous jaw….

Neighbors of Mr. Ross, an electrical contractor who changed his name from Bartilomiej Ciszewski upon emigrating from Poland a quarter-century ago, said he was an angry loner whose huge black dog terrorized children on their quiet street in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago. They recalled his disrupting a block club meeting several years ago to solicit support for his suit, and said that early last month, facing eviction, he asked neighbors to adopt his dog and cat because he could no longer afford to feed them.

Soon after, they said, he packed his belongings and left.

“When I looked out this morning and saw all the police tape, I said to my husband, ‘It has to be Bart Ross,’ ” said Jennifer Fernandez, a neighbor. “He obviously had a chip on his shoulder about this.”

Lawyers involved in the case, in which Mr. Ross represented himself, said that his physical and mental condition had deteriorated through the years and that they had fretted for their own safety around him.

That’s not the usual neighbor quote, is it — the “he was quiet; we’re surprised” spiel.

Everybody knew he was nuts. He was dangerous. The danger turned out to be all too real. But nothing was done to help him or protect others.

Now, of course, we say we can’t find ourselves in in a real-life version of Minority Report, preemptively arresting people before they’ve committed the crimeswe somehow knew they’d commit.

But look at the case of Ross: He was clearly insane; he was dangerous; nothing was done; the only way this story could end was the way it ended: in needless tragedy. Yes, society failed him. But it sure as hell failed Judge Lefkow’s family more. The priorities are wrong.

Look at today’s tragic shooting of a judge in Atlanta. I doubt that this is about insanity; it’s about raw criminality: A man on trial and facing forever in jail with nothing to lose is able to grab a gun because he was dressed in civilian clothes without handcuffs or shackles, they’re saying on TV now — so he wouldn’t look guilty to a jury. Two good people are dead and others are injured when their safety should have come first; they needed to be protected from a dangerous and deseparate man. The priorities are wrong.

I’ll even bring Michael Jackson into this — not on a legal basis but on a cultural basis. The guy is clearly nuts. You know it. I know it. But we won’t say it out loud. It wouldn’t be politically correct. Now I’m not saying that Jackson should be arrested because he’s nuts or even forced into treatment — God knows what kind — just because he’s nuts. I wouldn’t know how to adjudicate that. But I am saying that our treatment of him in his family, among his handlers, in his industry, and in media does him — and possibly the children he has entertained — no good. To use a bit of PC language myself, society has enabled his obvious insanity by not daring to call him insane. To me, this, too, is about the wrong priorities.

This is not just about getting help for the insane or keeping the dangerous in handcuffs. It’s about an attitude that gives priority to the safety of the sane.



: Got up at the crack of dawn this morning to pretape another blog segment about Michael Jackson for MSNBC dayside. Then came breaking news in Atlanta: a shooting in the courthouse (killing a judge and a court reporter). I heard the anchor who’d interviewed me say that they were waiting for the helicopter shots. Oh, no, when the helicopter arrives, that’s it: wall-to-wall coverage. So reaction to Michael Jackson in court got bumped by murder in court. Can’t argue with that news judgment….